Late last year, we laid an old friend to rest. The old pole barn had been functional and had served its purpose for many years, but it was plum worn out. Its green metal skin had long ago faded to gray, and the galvanized roof had been patched and repainted many times, but the real problem was within -- the old barn's skeleton had reached the point of collapse. It seemed to be just waiting for a strong wind to topple it over. So we took the old barn down, piece by piece, giving it the dignified end it deserved.
And now, rising from the old barn's footprint, we've built a new one. Most of our farm construction projects utilize long-lasting, practical steel these days. But for this barn, I pled my case for a real, old-fashioned wooden barn, like the ones that all farms used to boast. As I've watched many of the venerable old barns in the Ozarks disappear, I've felt the loss keenly. The old wooden barns had such stories to tell; often, they were the first structure to rise on a farmstead, being so necessary to the work that would make a place sustainable. But like the strong, hardworking farmers who built them, time took its toll and decay was inevitable.
I had an ulterior motive when we planned the new barn, a little dream I'd been nourishing. Traveling through the Upper Midwest in recent years, we always admired the big old barns that have been lovingly preserved on many of the farms. And what really captured my attention was the addition of a certain type of ornamentation that made us throw on the brakes for a longer look: barn quilts! In Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, there are dozens and dozens, even hundreds in some counties, of old barns sporting unique wooden panels, brightly painted with colorful quilt patterns. Even on the most humble, rustic barn, a beautiful Churn Dash or Nine Patch or Log Cabin quilt block called for a second look.
Our barn necessarily faces east, because of the adjoining corral and pens, so placing a quilt block on the side facing the road was not possible. But the area under the gable eave was a logical place. I began to research how to do it, eventually talking to barn quilt artists in Iowa and Kentucky and pooling their suggestions. The new barn loft door became my canvas.
I started my project when the barn construction was completed. The blank door was set on sawhorses, and I set to work. First, I gave the wood (which is the kind of product that the highway department uses for its road signs, ordered from our local lumberyard) a good coat of exterior primer. Then I used a pencil to sketch the pattern. I chose a Double Pinwheel, just because I've always liked pinwheel quilts. And then I carefully taped off sections with frog tape and went to work.
I painted the largest pieces of the block first, the blue triangles.
Next came the red triangles. Each of the four colors received three coats of paint, and the red, which did not seem to cover as well, had four coats.
Finally, after about three weeks of painting, drying, painting and drying, I was satisfied with the result. The door was ready to hang!
What fun it was, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to stand on the ground below and see the door placed on its hinges and swing into place!
Our very own Barn Quilt!
If you're traveling west on Highway 95 past our farm, I hope you'll carefully slow down and see Ozark County's first Barn Quilt. I'm very pleased with how it looks.
And now I have this other little dream ... that more Barn Quilts might appear on more Ozark County barns in the coming months. And they might spread to neighboring counties. Why, I think we could even have an Ozarks Barn Trail, which folks would drive from near and far to see.
If you're interested, contact me and I'll happily share just how I did it. The possibilities (colors, patterns, size) are endless. Any barn (or even a shed) would benefit from a little dressing up!